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FEEL THE BURN,
By David Podvin
In the aftermath of the California special election the headlines read, “SCHWARZENEGGER ROUTED”, a most welcome bulletin that for inspirational value ranks a close second to “COULTER DROWNS IN SEWAGE TREATMENT MISHAP”. Yet the most relevant factor is not that He Who Gropes has just been groped. It is the way in which he has been groped that serves as a template for liberal success.
Soon after taking office, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared war on the “special interests”, which from his perspective are the employees who serve the taxpayers. Arnold sued to block changes in the state's nurse-patient staffing ratios that would have improved medical care, and then taunted the nurses that he was “kicking their butts”. The governor also targeted educators and public safety personnel for abuse while promoting ballot initiatives designed to skew political power even further towards his corporate benefactors.
There is nothing unusual about a Republican attacking working people. The wild card was the response of union leaders, who reacted uncharacteristically for liberals by launching a withering counterattack. The unions understood that corporate news programs would never broadcast facts, so they did it themselves. For months, California television was blanketed with commercials in which gentle nurses and wholesome teachers and earnest firefighters and clean-cut cops politely explained that Arnold is a serial liar who has broken his promise to represent the common citizen.
There was no attempt to travel the high road – just a merciless lowering of public discourse via truthful personal attacks. Keeping in mind that many swing voters find it entirely plausible that the Professor crafted an intercontinental radio transmitter out of discarded coconut shells, the message was kept simple: Arnold lies. As a result of the relentless flogging, Schwarzenegger’s once-lofty approval ratings fell by half.
On Tuesday, the other shoe dropped when the governor’s cherished initiatives were rejected. Proposition 74, which would have imperiled teachers by making it easier to fire them… defeated. Proposition 75, which would have effectively excluded unions from the electoral process… defeated. Proposition 76, which would have given Schwarzenegger almost dictatorial power over the budget process so he could carry out his agenda that includes transferring public funds from pediatric cancer care to big business… defeated. And Proposition 77, which would have redistricted California so that Republicans could win through gerrymandering what they have lost through the democratic process… defeated.
Thus the returns on Election Night have provided liberals with a multiple orgasm moment. For the fascists who run the state GOP there now exists that horrible sinking feeling, the political equivalent of learning that your husband is about to make a movie with Angelina Jolie. Rather than kicking the butts of the public servants, Schwarzenegger got his butt kicked or – as I prefer to think of it – the nurses and their allies fondled Arnold’s breasts against his will.
The California experience provides an invaluable lesson for Democrats nationwide that relates to the contemptible cowardice of “keeping our powder dry”. There is but one surefire way to vanquish conservatives, and that is to beat the shit out of them.
The turning point in Arnold’s fortunes did not actually occur when the unions decided to go for his jugular, but shortly thereafter. Once the anti-Schwarzenegger campaign started, there was the inevitable reaction from the usual right wing suspects. Talk radio hosts screamed indignantly that liberals were proving themselves to be vicious bullies. The Republican Party issued statement after statement decrying the vile slander of it all. The mainstream media disparaged the union effort as “outrageous propaganda”. And Schwarzenegger was so irate that at one point it seemed certain he would deploy the National Guard to invade Poland.
This is the stage of the scenario where liberals typically dissolve into tears and promise never again to transgress, but the unions deviated from the script. When the head of the teacher’s association was scolded because her ads were making conservatives collectively hold their breath and turn blue, she responded with an eloquence that was transcendentally beautiful: “I don’t care.”
The three magic words. Had Al Gore or John Kerry possessed such command of the English language, George W. Bush wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Even after Schwarzenegger began a statewide bus tour to decry the “vicious lies of the powerful public employee unions that are bankrupting our state”, the forces of virtue refused to become defensive. When the pundits demanded that the unions apologize for smearing Arnold with forbidden facts, there was a noticeable failure to comply. The more the bad guys whimpered, the more the good guys swung from the heels. It was like the old Batman television series: BAM! WHOMP! KAPOW! There was none of the standard liberal flinching or equivocation. Just unadulterated honesty, and the results speak for themselves.
The electoral humiliation accorded to Schwarzenegger represents sublime existential bliss, so the unions’ approach is worthy of being emulated. Liberals across America should note that after their California counterparts told the truth and refused to back down God did not unleash a series of grueling plagues, nor did the frenzied wrath of conservatives cause progressives to turn into toads.
To the contrary, the truth protected innocent people from harm, which is the stated mission of liberalism. The tactic of being honest won the day. This happy result stands in stark contrast to the outcomes associated with the longstanding liberal strategies of promoting comity and facilitating bipartisanship. Those methodologies invariably result in unmitigated disaster, not to mention chronic acid reflux.
It was ethical to tell the truth. It was safe to tell the truth. It was productive to tell the truth.
And it sure was fun to tell the truth, much more fun than it has been to cower for all these years. Liberal politics really should be fun, if for no other reason than being fun will allow the philosophy to attract more adherents. It is hard to generate much joy when you are a part of a movement that is constantly recoiling in fear. “Let’s hold our fire!” is not one life’s more inspiring rallying cries, especially when it is a political movement’s singular rallying cry.
There is a clear delineation between what works for liberals and what doesn’t, but the winning strategy is rarely employed. The problem is not an intellectual one because no human being whose I.Q. exceeds the freezing point of water can seriously contend that being passive has ever led to electoral success. The Rubicon that must be crossed by liberals is emotional. Liberalism’s greatest failing has always been the obsession of striving to attain peace even when peace is obviously unattainable.
If success is to be achieved that compulsion must go. There can be no peace with American conservatives. Their hatred is so pathological that the more power they acquire the more persecuted they feel. Right wingers do not share the liberal ideal of attaining a mutually satisfactory accommodation. The reactionaries want it all and will settle for nothing less. Either conservatives will dominate liberals or vice versa.
The unions in California have shown the way. What they did to Schwarzenegger could have and should have been done to Bush between 2001 and 2004. It should now be done to the Republican Congress. The winning approach involves challenging conservative deceit and letting the chips fall where they may.
This must be a grass roots effort. The infinite expanse of cowardice that is the national Democratic Party was recently highlighted when Joe Biden felt compelled to surrender preemptively on Bush’s latest Supreme Court nomination. In California, the same phenomenon was at work when the Democrats who control the legislature did not impede Schwarzenegger’s attempts to hijack the constitution. It was the unions that slew the dragon in the Golden State. Nationally, the heavy lifting must be done by labor and environmentalists and consumer activists and human rights workers and all the other despicable special interests that stand between Corporate America and avaricious nirvana.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, the solution to liberals’ woes is as plain as the shoes on their feet. The Kansas schoolgirl was experiencing major heartache until she pitched water on the Wicked Witch, who thereupon disappeared faster than you can say, “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction”. Had Dorothy failed to vaporize the old hag it is safe to assume that, not unlike American progressives, little Toto would still be at the mercy of winged monkeys. The California example clearly indicates that liberals are the ones who possess the ruby slippers. They always have, but somewhere along the way they forgot how the magic works.
It works like this: tell the truth.
Liberals must now awaken from a decades-long slumber and realize that those who are unwilling to fight for their principles have no principles. Liberalism is supposed to be a results-oriented endeavor, not group masturbation for dilettantes who have far too much time on their hands. Progressives will reassume control over government just as soon as they stop being intimidated and start being honest. You can’t beat the Schwarzeneggers and Bushes of the world without identifying them for what they are, and what they are is rotten. It might not seem nice to speak candidly about conservatives, but it is infinitely nicer than allowing them to victimize people who have done no wrong.
Mr. Schwarzenegger has spent his entire life victimizing innocent people, but this time his intended victims had a little surprise waiting for our muscle-headed friend. It was nothing less than thrilling to see a right wing bully get his comeuppance, and the tour de force performance by California’s public employee unions merits the sincerest form of flattery.
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